Gregor the Overlander
by Suzanne Collins
I think what surprises me the most in the wake of the Hunger Games fever is how little is ever said about Suzanne Collins’ other series, Gregor the Overlander. I realize that there is a fairly big gap between the two series as far as target demographic goes (Gregor is firmly in the Middle Reader area while Hunger Games is about as Adult as Young Adult gets), but the themes of the two series are so closely tied that the lack of comparison to–or even mention of–Gregor is strange. So let’s change that right now with a proclamation:
If you liked Hunger Games, you’ll love Gregor the Overlander.
Gregor is a five-book series that follows the titular character as he faces the wild and violent world of the Underland, a huge civilization under New York City, filled with transparent-skinned humans and talking rats, bats and spiders. Gregor finds himself at the center of a prophecy that names him as the Warrior of the Underland, the one sent to save the humans from the wrath of the mighty rat monster, Bane.
Just one problem: Gregor wants absolutely nothing to do with fighting of any kind. He doesn’t even want to contemplate that he might be a killing machine. But time and time again, he’s thrown back into the battle, sacrificing pacifiscism for the sake of saving his family and friends.
One thing is very clear after reading both of these series: Collins really hates war. It is less subtle in Gregor than it is in Hunger Games, perhaps because of the Middle Reader setting, or perhaps because war is such a central part of all five books rather than just in one (Mockingjay). That’s not to say the topic isn’t handled well in Gregor. Barring the last few pages of the last book (Gregor and the Code of Claw), it’s never addressed with direct narrative. Instead, readers are shown over and over how war and–more importantly–the willingness to engage in war is the worst sin of sentient beings. But because both sides of the matter are always presented equally, coming to that conclusion is left to the reader–and the epilogue.
With all the war talk, one thing the series has that is a departure from Hunger Games is a hefty dose of comic relief. Gregor’s sister, Boots, is a constant source of joy for both the characters and the readers. At only two years old, she is fearless, in love with the giant cockroaches that call her Princess, and always ready to play some silly game. It is a necessary level of levity that keep these books from tipping too far into dark territory, and a deft move by Collins to reinforce the importance of small happiness in the world even when things are at their darkest.
Though the anti-war theme is the largest through the books, my favorite part of the whole series is the much smaller theme of prophecy. I’ve mentioned before that I’m over the whole prophecy trope in YA literature, so when the first book suddenly goes marching into prophecy territory, I’ll admit I let out a hefty groan. But to my utter delight, as the series progressed, it became more apparent that while, yes, the prophecies were coming true, they meant little in comparision to the characters’ choices. By the end, the lesson was clear: you can listen to prophcies, or you can just go out there and do what is right, prophecies be damned.
So if you’re looking to fill the Hunger Games void, look no further than Gregor the Overlander. And then join with me in consuming the latest Suzanne Collins interviews, looking for a hint of what will no doubt be her next great story.
What do you think, Canaries? What should Collins write about next?